As someone who teaches on-site seminars in “Effective Claims Writing,” I read hundreds of letters, memos, safety evaluation and site inspection reports, workers compensation evaluations, e-mail to brokers and loss control recommendations. Rarely do I see a document that completely avoids what I call the “Eight Deadliest” words and phrases commonly found in claims.
Here are the eight phrases that I always either delete or find substitutes for as I review claims writing samples:
- “Yours very truly” (also “Sincerely yours” and “Very truly yours” – You are not theirs. These closings are antiquated. I find myself using “Sincerely” almost all the time.
- “Respectfully” – This closing has a solemn, almost hat-in-hand aspect to it that I dislike. I see it used in denial letters all the time. Perhaps what the writer is thinking is this: “If I use ‘Respectfully,’ it will soften the blow.” But, of course, it doesn’t. It just adds a somber tone and won’t make the reader any happier about having a claim or a request denied.
- “Please be advised …” – A lawyer-like phrase that is almost always unnecessary. Usually you are not so much giving “advice” as you are “telling’ or “informing.” Save this phrase for the act of giving of advice. But no need to write: “Please be advised that the check is overdue.” Simply write: “The check is overdue.” Instead of “I advised him to call me tomorrow,” just write “I told [or asked] him to call me tomorrow.” Maybe “told has a bit too harsh a tone for some, in which case feel free to use this “advice” as needed. But “advise” or “be advised” is almost always overkill.
- “Please note that…” Again, here’s a phrase that may seem innocent but it has, for me, a rather patronizing tone (“Now, pay attention!”). I’d omit the phrase.
- “Enclosed please find.” – This phrase, more than any other in the world of business writing, epitomizes the lawyer-like way people start to write when they are either desperate to avoid using a pronoun like “I” or simply love to repeat phrases they’ve seen in other letters without ever thinking for themselves. After all, what do you have to “find”? Enough said! There’s nothing to “find.” Use “enclosed is…” or “I’ve enclosed.”
- Contact the undersigned (Send it to the undersigned) – News flash: you are the undersigned! It is perfectly fine to write, Send it to me.”
- “Dear Sir or Madam” – Not only does it sound as if you can’t make up your mind, but it ignores the fact that “Madam” is both archaic and, well, has a sexual connotation that doesn’t relate to your message. If you are unable to find out the correctly spelled name and title of the person to whom you are writing, then you must settle for some generic rendering of the title: “Dear Benefits Manager,” “Dear Managing Attorney,” or “Dear Commissioner.”
- “To Whom It May Concern” – Would you be eager to open a piece of correspondence addressed in this way?